Get Excited to Combat Performance Anxiety: Don't Stay Calm

First Posted: Dec 23, 2013 03:04 PM EST

Want to perform well in front of an audience? It turns out that instead of trying to calm down, you should get excited. Scientists have discovered that people who pump themselves up rather than trying to relax can improve their performance during anxiety-inducing activities such as public speaking and math tests.

"Anxiety is incredibly pervasive. People have a very strong intuition that trying to calm down is the best way to cope with their anxiety, but that can be very difficult and ineffective," said Alison Wood Brooks, one of the researchers, in a news release. "When people feel anxious and try to calm down, they are thinking about all the things that could go badly. When they are excited, they are thinking about how things could go well."

In order to examine how to improve performance during activities that triggered anxiety, researchers conducted several experiments. In one of these, 140 participants were told to prepare a persuasive public speech on why they would be good work partners. In order to increase their anxiety, one of the researchers videotaped the speeches and said that they would be judged by the committee. Before delivering their speeches, the participants were told to say either "I am excited" or "I am calm." In the end, the scientists found that those who said "I am excited" before speaking actually gave longer speeches, were more persuasive and were also more relaxed in comparison to the others.

"The way we talk about our feelings has a strong influence on how we actually feel," said Brooks, one of the researchers, in a news release.

So why does getting exciting actually help with anxiety? Since both anxiety and excitement are emotional states characterized by high arousal, it may be easier to view anxiety as excitement rather than trying to calm down in order to combat performance anxiety.

"When you feel anxious, you're ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats," said Brooks in a news release. "In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don't believe it at first, saying 'I'm excited' out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement."

The findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

See Now: NASA's Juno Spacecraft's Rendezvous With Jupiter's Mammoth Cyclone

©2017 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission. The window to the world of science news.

Join the Conversation

Real Time Analytics